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Legislators urge Biden to address global religious persecution

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A bipartisan group of members of Congress asked President Biden this week to prioritize responding to global religious persecution.

“Religious freedom, one of the most basic human rights for all people, has historically been an area of sincere bipartisan support and agreement in American foreign policy,” stated a May 4 letter by members of both the House and Senate to President Biden.

The May 4 letter was led by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.). The members were joined by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), as well as Reps. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).

“The United States is a beacon of hope and freedom, and we must continue to be a leader in calling attention and responding to religious persecution wherever it occurs,” they stated.

Citing the Pew Research Center’s annual study of global religious restrictions and persecution, the legislators called the current state of international religious persecution a “crisis.” 

They noted persecution of “the Rohingya in Burma, mass imprisonment and exploitation of Uyghurs and other faith groups by the Chinese government, and the ISIS genocide against Yazidis and Christians in Syria and Iraq” to emphasize the urgency of promoting religious freedom abroad.

The members called on Biden to fill vacant positions in his administration that are charged with promoting international religious freedom. 

In particular, they urged Biden to appoint an “experienced, well-qualified Ambassador-at-Large leading the International Religious Freedom office within the State Department.” 

Such an appointment, they said, “is vital” to the agency’s “success” in promoting international religious freedom, countering religious persecution, and engaging with governments, religious leaders, NGOs, and civil society.

The coalition of legislators also asked Biden to appoint a Director of International Religious Freedom within the National Security Council. 

“Having a designated point person to coordinate among all components of the U.S. Government that work to advance religious freedom abroad is vital to the success of these initiatives,” they stated. 

In addition to filling the new positions, the legislators recommended the Biden administration pursue initiatives and actions to work with global allies on issues on religious freedom.

The members urged the administration to lead coalitions of actors in government, civil society, and foreign nations to create initiatives that protect religious freedom. 

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The letter said that because of China’s hostility towards religious groups in particular, the U.S. has an obligation to respond. 

“China’s hostility toward religion and people of faith extends to Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners and Christians, some of whom are unjustly imprisoned for their faith, such as Pastor John Cao,” the letter said.

The members argued that U.S. engagement was integral to the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was imprisoned in Turkey for more than two years. The legislators added that because of the prioritization of religious freedom, the U.S. has been able to “defend Coptic Christians in Egypt, denounce anti-conversion laws in India, and draw attention to the alarming rise in anti-Semitism in Europe.”

The coalition of legislators said they hope the administration “will work on a bipartisan basis with Congress to advance these policy items and prioritize the right of all people to have a faith, live their faith, change their faith or have no faith at all.”

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